Conflict Thesaurus Entry: A Car Accident

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: A Car Accident

Category: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Losing an Advantage, Loss of Control, No-Win Situations

Examples: A minor fender bender
A major accident with another vehicle that results in physical harm
Hitting an animal or pedestrian
Running off the road and into a tree or structure

Minor Complications:
Being made late due to having to wait for a police officer or tow truck
Boredom while waiting on paperwork to be finished
Having to deal with rambunctious children during the wait
A totaled car that leaves the character without transportation
Getting a ticket (if the character caused the accident)
Conflict with the other driver
A new or young driver not knowing the protocol
Temporary health problems resulting from the accident (a headache, sore muscles, bruises or scratches, etc.)
Damaging someone’s property and being financially responsible for repairs

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Sustaining life-threatening injuries, such as internal bleeding, a collapsed lung, or damage to vital organs
Injuries that result in chronic pain or disability (paralysis, traumatic head injury, back pain, etc.)
Being negligible in an accident that results in someone’s death
Suffering severe injuries and having no insurance
Being hit by a driver with no insurance
The accident occurring in a remote location where help won’t come for some time
Getting sued
Being trapped in a vehicle
The character losing their license (because this wasn’t a first offense, they were drunk, etc.)
A long recovery
The character being unable to work because of the injuries or hours missed during recovery

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Being tempted to evade responsibility (by leaving the scene, lying to shift the blame to the other driver, etc.)
The character second-guessing themselves and wondering what they could have done to avoid the accident
Struggling with wanting to get revenge (if a loved one was killed due to someone else’s irresponsibility)
Being overcome with guilt (if the character was responsible)
Seeing the accident replay over and over in their mind
Being overcome with fears associated with the accident (fear of driving, of loved ones driving, of hospitals, etc.)
Obsessing over the What Ifs?—What if I had killed someone, I had left the house thirty seconds later (thereby avoiding the accident), someone had stopped the other person from driving under the influence, etc.
Worrying over what the character’s spouse or parents will say (if the character caused the accident)

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Those involved in the accident, their loved ones, first responders (police officers and EMTs), anyone else inconvenienced by the accident (employees who have to cover a shift when their co-worker doesn’t show up, a sports team having to compete without their best player, a date being stood up at a restaurant, etc.)

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, annoyance, anxiety, apprehension, bitterness, concern, defensiveness, denial, depressed, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disbelief, dread, empathy, fear, frustration, grief, guilt, horror, hysteria, impatience, intimidated, irritation, overwhelmed, panic, powerlessness, rage, regret, remorse, resentment, resignation, sadness, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, shock, stunned, unease, vengeful, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, addictive, callous, confrontational, defensive, evasive, impatient, impulsive, irrational, irresponsible, martyr, melodramatic, morbid, vindictive

Positive Outcomes: 
Gratitude that things didn’t turn out as badly as they could have
Being reminded of what’s important in life
Becoming a more cautious and patient driver (if the character was to blame for a minor accident)
Being forgiven instead of condemned and determining to be more gracious and forgiving in the future

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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Jan Sikes
Jan Sikes
1 year ago

This is another great entry! You listed some emotions and reactions I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of! Thanks!

J E Gaulton
J E Gaulton
1 year ago

When are you going to publish the conflict theasarus.

1 year ago
Reply to  J E Gaulton

Hi J E, Becca and I always test out a thesaurus on our blog before turning it into a book, and we’ve only just stared exploring it, so it would be some time yet (at least a year). The next book we are publishing is the Occupation Thesaurus, and if you like, you can put yourself on our mailing list so you’ll get an email every time a new book is released:

Happy writing and thanks for your interest in what we do. 🙂